Fallen on tough times recently — old pachinko debts, badly timed investments on the Shanghai Composite, flooding-related losses from our riverside aquaculture holdings — The Observer has had to turn to unconventional streams of revenue.
We only wish this was a euphemism for literal prostitution, but no: We're talking about freelance writing. Every January, the Arkansas Times churns out a glossy issue called the Natives Guide, which is — let's be frank — composed of gruel that may not be of the thickest consistency. But work is work, and so The Observer asked for an assignment.
"Sure, kid," the editors said. "You're gonna love this: Make a Little Rock brunch guide. Eat out every Sunday. Mimosas. Gravy. The whole 9 yards."
"Really?" we replied, scratching our head. "Dunno. Us? Brunch? Doesn't fit."
This came off as petulant.
"Oh, poor you," they said. "Too much brunch. Boo hoo hoo." They screwed up their faces and made those little facial windshield-wiper motions with balled fists. "Baby doesn't wanna eat brunch?" After we slammed the door on our way out, we could still hear the snickering.
We took the job anyway — times are hard — but this was a bad turn of events. Gracefully writing about food (or music or art) requires genuine fluency with the subject. Fake it, and you'll end up embarrassing yourself, either by composing a second-grade English lesson on the use of adjectives ("The eggs were ... delicious. The toast was ... dry.") or, far worse, by deploying rancid metaphors in a sad attempt to disguise your ignorance ("The yolks were poached to the perfection of magic hour," etc.). The Observer lives in the arid land of news and politics, and straying outside our beige wheelhouse to write anything with color leaves us terrified — the mousy accountant, out of his depth at the nightclub.
But it's not just that. As The Observer glowered our way from one Sunday to the next, ambivalence about brunch itself set in. Not the actual eating and drinking, but the making a Big Event of the eating and drinking. Not the decadence, but its fetishization. The twee portmanteau. The theatrical presentation of signature cocktails. The dollop of bourgeois luxury as a sop to the impending demise of another too-short weekend. A little consumerist excess to keep middle class allegiances tied to those of our economic overlords, whereas The Observer feels more at home in the Egg McMuffin stratum of society.
Evidently, the concept of a special Sunday meal catering to late-morning Epicurians dates to an 1895 article entitled "Brunch: A Plea" by Guy Beringer, a British writer remembered today for little else. "Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting," Beringer wrote. "It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week."
OK. But did the late Victorians never experience the shapeless dread that a truly boozy night can visit upon the following morning? The time slippage, the sense of mortality, the throbbing guilt — all backdropped by a fractured, teetering society devoted to immediate gratification? From the inhabitant of one fin de siecle age of decadance to another, Beringer, your solution is to go out for French toast?
When gripped by such a hangover, The Observer may want yet another indulgence, but we don't deserve one. What we deserve is to suffer. We deserve Old Testament-style wrath. Consider Chapter 6 of the Book of Amos. "Woe to you who are complacent in Zion," it begins, and then, in verses 4-7, continues:
You lie on beds adorned with ivory
and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs
and fattened calves.
You strum away on your harps like David
and improvise on musical instruments.
You drink wine by the bowlful
and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of
Therefore you will be among the first to
go into exile;
your feasting and lounging will end.